Virtue out of necessity

If life gives you lemons, then make lemonade, goes the adage.

An article published recently in the Observer focused on growing demand for Jamaican sauces in prisons abroad, citing experiences from the UK and USA. To my mind, I could see several good things in this situation. We cannot control people’s lives, so cannot stop them falling afoul on the law, and if they end up in prison, we should be aware of their conditions.

What was interesting when I read the article was comments who saw negatives from what was going on. But, I still feel that smart business should be about seeing new opportunities and using them well; if they help improve our overall position, I’d see that as a plus. In this case, we gain foreign exchange and dent a little the balance of our food import bills. We could do more out of this particular opportunity, for example, by making the same cuisine more widely available across the prison population. The article did not give us enough context by citing what was happening to satisfy prisoners of Polish origin, for example. Was the prison system buying more kielbasa?

20130921-114935.jpgOf course, we can lament that our compatriots have messed up and maybe brought more shame on the nation, but we should, also, not hide our head in the sand and let opportunities go begging.

More neutrally, I’d love to see an article that showed we were making a marketing push to get Jamaican food more widely known in prisons or anywhere eaters and drinkers may be. We believe in our diet, so what’s to stop us trying to sell it to the world, wherever the hungry bellies and thirsty mouths may be? Are the prisoners no less ambassadors? If we read that they spent their time in jail helping others understand and appreciate Jamaican culture wouldn’t that be a plus? Some of that is clearly going on with music.

We can see an obverse side to this with tourism. Little research has been undertaken into tourists’ food preferences. We may have a glaring opportunity going begging. Market analysis may show that foreign visitors are happier consuming more of their customary foods, but we should introduce our cuisine to them. They buy some of our food before they leave (subject to annoying restrictions about importing food or drink). They may look to find it when they get home. More power to us. I’ve always known about foods that travel well in terms of lightness: weight is now a major issue for travellers. Our food producers do good things for the benefit of locals when they sell foods in easy-to-carry forms, but they then become great export items. Airport shops have been filled with sauces and jams and patties and gizzadas. But, could they not start giving shelf space to other packaged foods? Sure, they are in supermarkets. But, do visitors with no Jamaican connections venture there? My daughter visited a few weeks ago and was thrilled with being able to slip into her luggage (lighter) packages of porridge and Milo, and gave up on (bulkier) bottles of sauce. Plastics may get a bad rap, but they are lighter than glass and tend not to break.

Food is big business. We focus on our import bill, and we know we have to develop non-traditional exports. But are we thinking about the many little things which may have to feature more in our thinking if we are to maximize our potential in driving more strongly our food exports?


20130921-122321.jpgOur cuisine is very much part of our ‘brand Jamaica’.